When you have a hit as big as the sixth sense, I’m talking critics loved it, audiences loved It, the Academy Awards loved it, it's really hard to go anywhere but down after that because you are always going to be living up to a certain expectation coming off that success with another original movie. Unbreakable never really found its audience in the early 2000s, however if you ask people nowadays what their favorite M Night Shyamalan film is a surprising amount of people respond with Unbreakable. As a warning this review is going to contain some SPOILERS, I've warned you.
Unbreakable is about a man named David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis, he was involved in a very unfortunate train accident and he was the only survivor but not only was he the only survivor, he emerged without a single scratch and this makes Samuel L. Jackson character, Elijah Prince, extremely skeptical because he's been searching for a man like this for almost his entire life. Elijah suffers from a rare disease in which his bones can easily be broken, his arms and legs were broken right out of the womb. That's disturbing as hell, but it was a very chilling opening scene and a great way to set the serious tone of what is actually a superhero movie in hiding. Elijah believes that there's someone on the opposite end of his spectrum, someone who can't be hurt someone. who's impervious to pain someone who is technically a superhero. Now Unbreakable came out in the year 2000 which was a very important year for comic book movies because up until then we'd had the Superman films, we'd had the Batman films, but they were in this sort of weird like “We can do these guys because they're popular and we'll see what we can do”. People weren't like “Oh my god, comic book movies can happen”.
As you guys know today comic book movies are everywhere they're the most popular genre in film right now in regards to box office gross and a movie like Unbreakable is the kind of movie that a really smart director would make today in the year 2018. Critics would go and see it and go “Wow what a breath of fresh air from the everyday comic book movie to see this serious take on the genre”. Except it was made 18 years ago before the explosion happened which makes it all the better. I love The Sixth Sense and this may be an unpopular opinion but I like Unbreakable even more. I think it's a better film in almost every way, I think it's better acted, I think it's better directed, I think that as a story it's infinitely more interesting and even more original than The Sixth Sense was. The Sixth Sense has great ideas and it's a very effective movie, but I found unbreakable to be an infinitely more watchable movie with far more replay value so let's analyze what happens after the opening credits
We get this incredible one take on a train with Willis and you learn so much about him instantly. You see him take off his wedding ring as a cute girl approaches and we hear him talking about his fear of water. You learn almost every major point you need to know about David Dunn in one take. As a self-professed comic book fan Shyamalan looked at these characters, the hero and the eventual villain, which was revealed in the twist, which I’ll talk more about later, and he gave them both signature colors. Elijah's is purple, in his office the walls are painted purple, most of the clothes he wears throughout the movie have purple involved in some way. David Dunn's is green, the security poncho that he wears when he's at his job at the University Stadium and quite often the clothes that he is wearing have a shade of green as well.
These subtle things have virtually no effect on the story but what I really appreciate about it is that it shows that Shyamalan was really, really trying with this movie. I mean he put so many small details that have virtually no impact on how the story plays out, but he did it as a way to tribute comic book characters. In fact, a lot of the shots in the movie were designed to look as if they were comic panel. I was watching the documentary making of the film and Willis was talking about how often they would just do everything in one take and would only do it a couple times and how it was actually making people nervous because they were afraid they weren't getting enough coverage. When watching the movie you see these long takes playing out and it reminds me of that old-fashioned style of filmmaking in which a take would show many actors, or just a couple actors, in a shot conversing with one another and you can see these actors are actually acting in a space. It's not just cut to a close-up, cut to a close-up, cut to a close-up, it's one big shot in which you can actually get a feel for the world and unbreakable did that beautifully.
Now from a dramatic perspective, I honestly think this is the best work that Bruce Willis has ever done. He is magnificent in this movie, he's so subtle, he's very subdued, he's quiet, but you can feel a world of pain for things that happened to him in his past with this accident in which he was “supposedly” injured and then quit football. He feels he hasn't been a good father to his son played by Spencer Treat Clark,who's also really good in the movie another very good child performance. Let's talk about Samuel L. Jackson who looks like a crazy person and he is a crazy person so it works. As a character Elijah Prince is a fascinating individual, he has this rare disease that does exist in real life and so you automatically feel very sorry for him, but the way Samuel L. Jackson plays this character, he's so stubborn about his beliefs and he's so strong as a character because of all the things he's been through, you actually begin to respect him.
I want to talk about what is perhaps my favorite scene in this movie. It's the workout scene in David Dunn's’ basement where he’s working out and his son is secretly adding more weight, trying to see if his father is really the superhero that Elijah thinks he is and as the scene progresses they continue to add more and more weight and it just gets funnier and funnier. The editing of this scene really makes the comedy pop and it's one of the best scenes in the whole movie
As the film progresses and David realizes that he can't remember ever being sick he's stronger than he ever was. He survived this crazy train wreck and he begins to think that maybe Elijah is actually right, maybe he is a superhero and I'm not laughing when I'm watching this. There's no laughing, like on paper it's like this is the dumbest thing I've ever read especially in the year 2000. When Shyamalan was trying to sell this movie they really only made it cause of the success of The Sixth Sense and even like 18 years later this movie has held up so well. The marketing of the movie was like it's a supernatural movie, it's a suspense scary film, something's weird happened with this guy, but the movie was really about Superman in hiding. In fact, one of my all-time favorite directors, Quentin Tarantino, said that Unbreakable was not only one of the masterpieces of our time, but what it should have been marketed as was “What if Superman was on earth and he didn't know he was Superman?”.
I gotta talk about James Newton Howard’s score. Holy crap, the scene in which he's going after the orange man, the man who killed this person and is now keeping these girls chained up somewhere, and he falls into the pool and gets caught in that tarp and then starts to drown because he suddenly realizes his weakness is water. Water is his kryptonite and when the girls pull him out and he stands up that frickin score, Oh My God . I just want to take my fist and pump it into the air and when he headlocks the guy and they start having the struggle and it's like this one-take rising up into the air that’s of him just taking this guy down to the ground. The music is so inspirational, you just feel like “Yes, this is the first time this guy is doing what he's supposed to do, he is saving these girls.” you just feel it. The score is so good I'm telling you guys. That moment in film is one of the most inspirational things I've ever seen in a movie and it's a guy getting choked out like how crazy is that, but it's true because you realize this is what the character is meant to do. He's meant to save people, he's meant to be that one person on earth who can actually make a difference and James Newton Howard’s score combined with the editing and the directing and the performances and the stunt work in that scene it's one of my favorite movie scenes of all time and I love the fact that his security cloak eventually becomes his superhero costume.
So let's talk about the twist ending of Unbreakable. For some people it makes or breaks the film. I think it's fantastic, not just because of what it means for the story. The thing that most people talked about in The Sixth Sense was the twist and that's what got more people to go back and see it again, to see the film in a different way. It's what gave the film word of mouth, so when you go to a film like Unbreakable people suddenly have these expectations. In fact I'm actually very disheartened by the Rotten Tomatoes consensus of this film “With a weaker ending, Unbreakable is not as good as The Sixth Sense.” The reason this kind of hurts me a little bit is because I try to never fall into the whole “Hollywood hype expectations” thing and it disheartens me that critics at the time in the year 2000 did. That it's like “We just wanted to see what the twist was” and “Oh, it wasn't as surprising as The Sixth Sense.” It's a completely different movie in every way, to compare it to The Sixth Sense is so dumb, just because it's made by the same director you don't compare completely different films and say one of them isn't as good simply because the ending wasn't as good as the last one. What Elijah says at the end of this movie is that you can always tell who the villain is going to be because he's the exact opposite of the hero and sometimes they're friends like in Unbreakable. The ending of Unbreakable works on almost every level, once you discover that Elijah was the one who was setting up various disasters. One of the biggest complaints I've heard about the ending is that it feels a little unnecessary, which I can understand because it doesn't necessarily feel warranted or earned on the first viewing because it feels totally out of left field but when you watch the movie multiple times and you see hints that Elijah is the person who's behind all this, it really fits together very nicely. Also the movie needs a villain and that villain is eventually revealed to be Elijah. Now look at most comic book superheroes, it's a very common trend in comic books that the villain is almost always directly involved with the creation of the superhero and Unbreakable tells the same story, it's genius. Unbreakable is one of my all-time favorite movies, I actually like it more than The Sixth Sense. I think that over time the film has actually quietly improved. It's gotten better with repeat viewings. If you've never seen this movie first off why'd you read this review it's all spoilery, but anyway definitely check out Unbreakable it's a great film, I think it's very underrated and very overlooked.